Hope springs eternal -- with the right bait


Mar 11, 2001
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Hope springs eternal -- with the right bait

Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle

May 12, 2002

When you cast your fishing line in a lake for bass, what you are actually doing is casting a hook filled with your hopes.

The moment you don't have hope, the game is over, your fires cooled to ash. But given the prospects of something good, you'll eventually discover what fishing is all about: That you've actually been hooked yourself and reeled right in. Hope has a way of doing that to you.

That is how it felt as we peered down into a cove of the Big Backbone at Shasta Lake, where about 10 feet deep, we could clearly see a half dozen bass, all 9 to 12-inchers.

"Little guys," I joked, and tossed out a plastic worm, a 4-inch dark green Senko, jigging it lightly as it dropped into the fish zone.

Two of those little bass twitched, turned and started heading for the worm. I smiled, hoping I could get one to bite, like the dozen or so already that morning, watching every detail below in Shasta's clear, clean water. Then suddenly, those two bass stopped and turned as if repelled.

At first, it made no sense. A few seconds later, all became clear.

Peering into the water, we watched as a matched pair of 12- to 15-pound bass, roughly 28 to 30 inches long, suddenly emerged, swimming slowly from right to left, also about 10 feet deep. They cruised below and parallel to my boat, passing that school of small bass like Darth Vader's Death Star overwhelming a fleet of Rebel cruisers.

We just about hyperventilated in the next two minutes while throwing everything I had at them: five rods, all pre-rigged. At one point, I trailed a plastic worm right in front of the biggest one, but it seemed that it would take a Jaws of Life to pry its mouth open. And then they were gone.

See something like this even once and it has way of torturing you for life.

In the past month, as the dogwoods bloom and this spring's crop of fawns have started nibbling at freshly sprouted vegetation, the water temperatures at lakes in California's foothill country have climbed from 50 to 65 degrees. Just like that, the bass have come to life, with periods where it seems they will attack anything that moves.

At Shasta, Berryessa and Oroville, days of 20 to 75 bass per boat are about average right now, depending on the luck of the day. In the back Delta, Clear Lake and Coyote Reservoir, there have been more bass caught in the 6-pound-and- up-class than anywhere in Northern California. At Camanche, Sonoma, New Melones and Don Pedro, there has been a bit of both, occasional good numbers with some big ones in the mix.

The best strategy is to sneak-fish coves and the leeward sides of points. This can be done stalking from shore, but with a boat you have the tremendous edge of being able to cover 20 to 30 coves in a morning, compared to four or five on foot.

The right tackle is a key. Because trout rods have soft tips, they are not well matched for bass. Jonah Li, my tackle mentor at Hi's in San Francisco, recommends a 6 1/2-foot Shimano CSS-X66M matched with a Shimano Stradic or Sahara spinning reel, 2000 series, with 8 or 10-pound test ultra-green Maxima or P-Line.

The best starting points with lures are a 4-inch Senko worm, Brush Hog lizard, chartreuse spinner bait, Terminator Rattling Jig, Rat-L-Trap, Zara Spook, and during hot weather, frog and rat lures. I always keep several rods rigged ahead of time with these, along with hundreds of other lures stashed aboard.

Never use snap swivels for bass, but always tie your line directly to the lure or eye of the hook. For plastics, rig either with a jighead or by placing a bullet weight over your line, then tying on a black 3/0 Gamakatsu Extra Wide Gap worm hook. When rigging a plastic worm, lizard or crawdad on the hook, it must be set so it lies perfectly straight in the water and will not spin, so it looks natural. That done, every cast will not only be full of hope -- but will also bring a day filled with excitement and rewards, again and again.

Even if the big ones swim right under your boat, laughing at you.

Helpful contacts

Jim Munk, Napa, (707) 987-3734; Keith Clow, Lakeport, (707) 998-1921; Cash Colby, Oroville, (530) 533-1510; Larry Hemphill, (530) 674-0276; Hank Mautz, Redding, (800) 355-3113.

Hi's Tackle, San Francisco, (415) 221-3825; Outdoor Pro Shop, Rhonert Park, (707) 588-8033; Tri-Cities, Fremont, (510) 651-9600; Fisherman's Warehouse, Manteca, (209) 239-2248; Fisherman's Friend, Lodi, (209) 369-0204; Phil's, Redding, (530) 275-4939.

Northern California's best bass bests:

1. Big Break Fisherman's Warehouse at Ð(209) 239-2248.

2. Lake Oroville State Rec Area at (530) 538-2200.

3. Shasta Lake Shasta Cascade at 1-800-474-2782.

4. Lake Berryessa Markley Cove at (707) 966-2134.

5. Camanche Lake North Shore at (209) 763-5121.

6. Lake Sonoma Marina at (707) 433-2200.

7. Clear Lake Visitor Information at 1-800-525-3743.

8. New Melones Reservoir Glory Hole at (209) 736-4333.

9. Don Pedro Reservoir Marina at (209) 852-2369.

10. Coyote Reservoir Coyote Bait at (408) 463-0711.

E-mail Tom Stienstra at tstienstra@sfchronicle.com.

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